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March 6, 2006

Future Shock

State of the Systems: AL West

by Kevin Goldstein

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This is part three of a six-part series in which I'll look at the State Of The System for all 30 major league teams. I'll talk about what's working, what's not, and identify a few names to look out for (or beware of) in 2006.

The Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim (Fully translated into English: The The Angels Angels of Anaheim)

  • What's Working: Almost everything. From 2001-2004, the Angels essentially conducted a clinic on how to draft, doing pretty well with their first-round picks (including Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis and Brandon Wood), occasionally striking gold in the later rounds (Howie Kendrick was a 10th-round pick in 2002), and being creative with their money, as in the grand theft prospect of righthander Nick Adenhart in 2004. Adenhart was among the best high school arms in the draft entering the year, but he injured his elbow during his senior year and required Tommy John surgery. Most teams wrote him off, assuming he'd go to North Carolina and prove himself for three years, but the Angels took a flyer on him in the 14th round, signed him for a little over $700,000, and oversaw his rehab. Pitching for the first time in over a year last summer, Adenhart was almost completely back to what he was in high school, and struck out 59 over 50 innings. Give credit to the Angels for thinking outside the box.

  • What's Not Working: When you are dealing with one of the best systems in baseball, any criticism is nitpicking. That said, with an aging Garret Anderson in left and Darin Erstad (now in entering Year Six of his what-went-wrong phase) in center, the Angels could use some outfield help, and there isn't any in this system.

  • 2006 Rookies: The Angels make no attempt to temper their enthusiasm for Wood and Kendrick, and with good reason. While both will most likely start 2006 in the minor leagues (Kendrick at Triple-A and Wood in Double-A), both could force their way into the big leagues by midseason, with Wood possibly sliding over to third base.

  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Catcher Mike Napoli has become a fascinating prospect, because he's made real progress behind the plate, and now projects as somebody who can stay at catcher as he moves up. With a Three True Outcomes percentage of 49.1%, he has the makings of a cult favorite, and an outside chance of becoming something between Gene Tenace and Mickey Tettleton.

  • Don't Believe The Hype: In 2003, Jered Weaver had one of the best seasons statistically of any pitcher in recent college baseball history. Pitching for Long Beach State, Weaver had a 1.63 ERA in 144 innings, while accumulating more than twice as many strikeouts (213) as baserunners allowed (81 hits, 21 walks). This caused people to make the dangerous mistake of judging a college player solely by his statistics, and some started to say Weaver was as good as, if not better than, the last college super-pitcher, USC's Mark Prior. Those people didn't talk to the scouts, who saw a pitcher dominating with good stuff and excellent command in a pitcher-friendly park, as opposed to Prior, whose pure stuff was off the charts. Weaver's arm slot was also a concern, as that family of pitchers has a tendency to struggle against good lefthanded hitters. Weaver took nearly a year to sign, and now that he's pitched in the pros, all of those concerns have come to light. In the Texas league, lefty batters hit .278 against him, and in the small sample-size Arizona Fall League, his platoon splits were downright ridiculous (.220 vs. RHB, .365 vs. LHB). Add in an incredibly low groundball-to-flyball ratio (0.36) in the regular season, and you have a pitcher who's hard to project as more than a No. 3 or 4 starter. In the end, if he hits his ceiling, he's basically his brother.

Oakland Athletics

  • What's Working: On a talent level, the Oakland system is depleted from previous seasons, but it's for all the right reasons. The Athletics graduated so many players to the major leagues over the past few years that the system is now light on talent. But it's hard to criticize a system that's produced young players like Joe Blanton, Bobby Crosby, Daniel Johnson, Huston Street and Nick Swisher in the last two years. Trading Mark Mulder to the Cardinals netted the A's an instant good starter in Dan Haren and the team's top prospect in Daric Barton. The A's strayed a bit from their normal style of drafting in 2005, taking classic polished college players with their first two picks, but trying to get some potential impact talent in the system by popping high school players with six of their next seven picks.

  • What's Not Working: As good as the Mulder trade looks on paper, the Tim Hudson deal to the Braves has the making of a total bust, as lefthander Dan Meyer has gone from sure-fire big league starter to a riddle wrapped around a mystery inside an enigma. The system is alarmingly shallow when it comes to corner infielders other than Barton, and completely bereft of left-handed pitching. The A's system is now a "gap system," as there is little talent at the top expected to help in the next two seasons, other than a sizeable group of players who project as bench help.

  • 2006 Rookies: After some great rookie contributions in 2004 and 2005, the well is pretty dry. Barton will start the year at Triple-A at the age of 20, and while he has the ability to start strong and force the A's to make a decision, there is no obvious hole for him to fill at first base or designated hitter. Righthander Shane Komine is easy to root for, and one of the few arms who could contribute in a pinch if Meyer's struggles continue.

  • I Like Him Better Than Most: If I had to pick just a handful of players who could explode in 2006, one of them would surely be outfielder Javier Herrera. On a pure tools level, he has 30-30 potential, but his full-season debut in 2005 was sidetracked by a suspension at the beginning of the season for performance-enhancing drugs, and a mid-season emergency stint at Triple-A Sacramento. The hitting-friendly parks of the California League and a year of stability could be just what the doctor ordered for a monster year.

  • Don't Believe The Hype: A couple months ago, the first choice would have been Andre Ethier, who Billy Beane found a taker for in the Milton Bradley trade. Choice two would have been lefthander Dallas Braden, who went down with shoulder surgery and will miss at least the first half of the season. Sticking with healthy players still in the system, I'll go with outfielder Danny Putnam. The former Stanford star hit .307 with 100 RBI in his full-season debut, but his arm and athleticism limit him to left field, and he just doesn't have enough juice in his bat to profile as an everyday player there.

Seattle Mariners

  • What's Working: It's not a very good system, but you can find some good points here and there if you squint. Felix Hernandez graduated to the majors injury-free, a rarity among Seattle pitching prospects of late. Shortstop-turned-centerfielder Adam Jones began to make the exciting leap of translating his incredible athleticism into on-the-field production, and 2005 first round pick Jeff Clement gives Seattle the rare catcher with bigtime offensive potential. The Mariners also have a number of interesting infielders, my favorite of which is shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who handled the California League at 19 and is slick defensively.

  • What's Not Working: Since being a devastating 1-2 punch in the Texas League in 2003, pitchers Clint Nageotte and Travis Blackley have both seen their stock take a significant hit. Nageotte has dealt with a slew of injuries in the last two years, and his stuff has fallen a bit across the board despite a move to the bullpen. Blackley got knocked around in his 2004 MLB debut and then missed all of 2005 after having labrum surgery. Outfielder Chris Snelling, seemingly made of balsa wood, continues to hit when he's healthy, but he's been healthy for only 186 games--total--over the last four years.

  • 2006 Rookies: Technically a rookie, Japanese import Kenji Jojima takes over behind the plate, and scouts' projections for him pretty much match PECOTA's--maybe a little less average, and a little more power.

  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Lefty Ryan Feierabend gave up 186 hits in 151 innings last year at High-A Inland Empire, but at just 19, he was in over his head and showed poise, command, and the ability to make adjustments. He's not overwhelming by any measurement, but could develop into a solid back-of-the-rotation starter.

  • Don't Believe The Hype: With no first or second-round pick in the 2004 draft, the Mariners put all of their eggs in one basket with their third round pick, drafting local product Matt Tuiasosopo, giving him $2.29 million to prevent him from going to Washington to follow in the football footsteps of his father and brother. His pro debut was impressive, but his first full-season in 2005 showed that he'll have to move away from shortstop. His power shows up in batting practice far more often than it does during games.

Texas Rangers

  • What's Working: For a team desperate for pitching, help may be on the way. The much-publicized DVD trio of John Danks, Edison Volquez and Thomas Diamond gives the Rangers three quality pitching prospects, and the team added solid righty Armando Galarraga in the Soriano deal. Righthander Eric Hurley had an eye-opening full-season debut in 2005, and has the stuff to be as good as any of them. While the Rangers have had some bad drafts towards the top in the last few years, they've also found some late-round gems in second baseman Ian Kinsler (17th round, 2003), and righthander Kameron Loe (20th, 2002).

  • What's Not Working: The system lacks any sure things when it comes to hitters, and many of their top bats are at positions where the Rangers are already strong. Texas' drafts have been a mixed bag. Infielder Drew Meyer at No. 10 overall in 2002 is a colossal mistake, Vince Sinisi's $2 million-plus bonus in 2003 looks like it could become one, while taking John Mayberry with their first-round pick in 2005 was a curious selection. As excited as the team is with the DVD trio, all three of them hit a wall at Double-A, with a combined ERA of 5.10 in 226 innings.

  • 2006 Rookies: Kinsler will be handed the second base job and should be right around league-average for the position immediately, which was .271/.323/.413 last year. The Rangers think they have another late-round find in righthander Scott Feldman (30th round, 2003), and while he could win a bullpen job, his inability to miss bats could catch up with him.

  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Acquired from the White Sox in the 2003 version of the Carl Everett trade, outfielder Anthony Webster is a terrific athlete who finally started playing good baseball during his second stint in the California League last year. Double-A will be a big test for him, but the Rangers are desperate for a true center fielder, and Webster has a chance to be that guy.

  • Don't Believe The Hype: Considered by some the team's top position prospect, shortstop Joaquin Arias is still a lot more promise than reality. He can hit for average, but a lack of power and plate discipline leaves him better suited for the bottom half of the lineup, while his plus defensive skills are tempered by inconsistent play and high error totals.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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